Recent Corruption Cases in Singapore

By Hamidul Haq

Posted: 1st August 2013 10:05

Overview of Singapore’s Enforcement Regime
 
Singapore has long enjoyed a reputation of being one of the least corrupt countries in the world.  Our international rankings in this regard are high.  In 2012, Singapore was ranked the 5th out of 176 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index scores.  In Asia, Singapore is constantly prized as the least corrupt country, thus finding favour with investors and financial institutions keen on tapping into the Asian market. 
 
A major part of this success lies in the relentless fight against corruption by the enforcement regime in Singapore.  The main body vested with investigative powers is the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (“CPIB”).  Specifically, the CPIB focuses on corruption offences arising under the Prevention of Corruption Act (“PCA”) and the Penal Code.  The Commercial Affairs Department (“CAD”) of the Singapore Police Force is the principal white-collar crime investigation agency and is the body which enforces legislation governing financial and commercial entities in Singapore. 
 
Despite the country’s stance of zero tolerance against corruption, Singapore has recently seen a spate of high-profile corruption cases in the public sector.  These lapses show that one can never be too complacent in the fight against corruption.  The following is an illustration of some of these cases.
 
The Applicable Law
 
Corrupt transactions which fall within the ambit of the PCA can be characterised as general corruption(1) or corruption involving agents.(2).  A person found guilty of an offence under either category shall be liable to a fine not exceeding $100,000, or to imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both. 
 
Under the PCA,(3) the term “corruptly” requires the court to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that first, there is a corrupt element in the transaction and second, that the person giving or receiving the gratification possess a corrupt intent.(4) The first requirement of a “corrupt element” is satisfied by ascertaining the accused person’s intention in receiving the alleged gratification, and then using an objective standard, to determine whether that intention taints the transaction with a corrupt element.(5) The second requirement of a “corrupt intent” is fulfilled by determining whether the accused knew or realised that what he did was corrupt by the ordinary and subjective standard.(6)
In relation to public officers, a presumption of corruption exists under the PCA.(7) , As such, where it is proved that any gratification has been paid or received by a public officer, that gratification shall be deemed to have been paid or received corruptly as an inducement or reward, unless the contrary is proved.  This presumption may be rebutted by the accused showing a legitimate reason for receiving the alleged gratification, and the burden lies on the accused to rebut the presumption on a balance of probabilities. 
 
Recent Corruption Cases
 
Ex-chief of the Central Narcotics Bureau Ng Boon Gay acquitted of all corruption charges
 
In June 2012, the former anti-narcotics chief Ng Boon Gay was charged with four counts of corruption for obtaining sexual gratification in the form of oral sex from Ms. Cecilia Sue, a sales manager of Hitachi Data Systems (“HDS”).  Ng was alleged to have obtained the sexual gratification from Sue in return for assisting to further the interests of HDS in relation to its dealings with the Central Narcotics Bureau (“CNB”).
 
During the trial, the Prosecution attempted to link the four sexual encounters between Ng and Sue to two CNB contracts where HDS was a sub-vendor.  The Prosecution argued that there was a conflict of interest which proved that Ng possessed “guilty knowledge”, which was a requite element of the charge. 
 
As the Prosecution’s key witness, Sue testified on the stand of the numerous occasions where she was allegedly forced to perform oral sex on Ng.  Subsequently however, significant discrepancies in her previous statements to the CPIB and the evidence adduced at trial led to the Defence asking for Sue’s testimony to be impeached and for the Prosecution questioning Sue as a hostile witness. 
 
In his judgment, the Judge held that Sue was successfully impeached as her testimony was inconsistent and unconvincing.  On the other hand, the Judge found Ng to be a credible witness as he gave evidence in a forthright manner.  The Judge further believed Ng’s testimony, in that both parties were in a consensual and intimate relationship, in the light of overwhelmingly convincing evidence such as intimate text messages sent by Sue to Ng as well as late night phone calls they had exchanged.  The existence of this relationship negated any corrupt element that Ng was alleged to have. 
 
The Judge held that the Prosecution had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  Ng was acquitted of all four charges of corruption.
 
Former law professor Tey Tsun Hung charged in sex-for-grades case
 
Former National University of Singapore (NUS) law professor Tey Tsun Hang was first charged in July 2012 with six counts of corruptly obtaining gratification from his former student, Darinne Ko.  These six charges consisted of receiving sexual favours and gifts such as a Mont Blanc pen, an Apple iPod as well as two tailor-made shirts, as an inducement for Tey to show favour in his assessment of Ko’s academic grades. 
 
After a highly publicised 28-day trial, Tey was found guilty on all six counts of corruption and sentenced to five months’ imprisonment.  In delivering his verdict, the Judge held that he was satisfied with the Prosecution’s submissions that Tey had corrupt intent, knew what he was doing was wrong but had persisted in taking advantage of his former student.  Tey’s defence that the relationship he shared with Ko was a romantic one and that they were in love did not find favour with the Judge. 
 
Further, the Judge found that Tey had great influence over his former student as the status of their relationship was a disproportionate one.  The Judge stressed that whether Tey had actually shown favour to Ko was unimportant.  What was vital was that Tey could, and showed her that he could, influence her grades in order to obtain gratification. 
 
The NUS has since terminated the appointment of Tey, whose termination was with immediate effect in response to Tey’s conviction.
 
Former Singapore Civil Defence Force chief Peter Lim convicted for corruption
 
Another public sector corruption case making the headlines involved the ex-chief of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (“SCDF”), Peter Lim.  In June 2012, the former government scholar was charged with 10 counts of corruption for engaging in sexual trysts with three female IT executives in exchange for favouring the women’s companies in IT-related tenders called by the SCDF.  The Prosecution later decided to stand down on nine of these charges and to proceed with only one charge involving Ms Pang Chor Mui, a former general manager of Nimrod Engineering. 
 
The Prosecution took the position that the sexual encounter in May 2010 between Lim and Pang acted as an inducement for Lim to advance the interest of Nimrod.  Although Nimrod Engineering bid for the tender a year later after the sexual act in May 2011, the Prosecution argued that Lim had corrupt intentions when Pang performed the oral sex on Lim. 
 
The Defence refuted the allegations that the oral sex performed on Lim was tainted by with any corrupt element or that Lim had placed himself in a situation of conflict of interest that amounted to corruption.  Further, the Defence argued that Pang performed the sexual act on her own initiative without any inducement by Lim. 
 
The Judge eventually found Lim guilty of having obtained sexual gratification from Pang, an employee of a company that had business dealings with the SCDF, beyond reasonable doubt.  The Judge also held that as a civil servant of 25 years, Lim ought to have known that he would be placed in a conflict-of-interest situation if he had obtained sex from an employee of a vendor company and knowing that the said vendor was involved in the tender.  Lim was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.  Lim expressed his intention to appeal on the sentence and has, through his lawyers, filed a notice of appeal on the sentence. 
 
Hamidul Haq joined Rajah & Tann LLP as a Partner after his extensive experience with the Commercial Affairs Department and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.   
 
His arrival bolstered the Commercial Litigation Practice in its strength and dominance in the legal circle, particularly in the area of securities, business crimes, fraud and commercial litigation practice.   He now gives advice to corporate and individual clients in these areas, as well as advice on anti-money laundering matters. 
 
Prior to joining Rajah & Tann LLP, Haq was a Deputy Senior State Counsel/Deputy Public Prosecutor of the Criminal Justice Division, Attorney-General's Chambers.   His work involved prosecution matters and giving advice on corporate and securities cases including civil penalty actions for market misconduct under the new Securities and Futures Act.   He also prosecuted serious and general crimes, supervising eight Deputy Public Prosecutors in the Financial and Securities Offences Directorate.
 
As Head Legal in the Commercial Affairs Department for eight years, Haq dealt with many high profile commercial and securities cases against top Senior Counsel of Singapore Bar and Queen’s Counsel from Commonwealth jurisdictions.   
 
Hamidul Haq can be contacted via phone on (65) 6232 0398 or alternatively by email at: hamidul.haq@rajahtann.com

(1) Section 5 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap. 241)
(2) Section 6 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap. 241)
(3) See Sections 5 and 6 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap. 241)
(4) Public Prosecutor v Khoo Yong Hak [1995] SGHC 101; [1995] 1 SLR(R) 769 at [18]
(5) Chan Wing Seng v Public Prosecutor [1997] 1 SLR(R) 721; Hassan bin Ahmad v Public Prosecutor [2000] 2 SLR(R) 567 at [15]
(6) Chan Wing Seng v Public Prosecutor [1997] 1 SLR(R) 721
(7) Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap.241)

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